Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Emotional Concept

So this is not the usual subject of this blog, but I just wanted to share on a more personal level a new concept I've recently learned.

As a caveat, my world revolves around logic and quantifiable ideas. I try to be sensitive to my emotional self as well as my intelligent self, but I'd be the first to admit that dealing with emotions is a skill that I struggle with at times.

I have just learned about the concept of secondary emotions. A primary emotion is what you feel in direct relation to an event (or thought). A secondary emotion is your reaction to the first emotion.

It's such a simple idea, but I had never considered this. For instance, you can be happy you got a raise, and then feel guilty about being happy because your friends didn't get the same raise. You can be scared of the dark, and then ashamed that you are scared.

This past week, I've been trying to notice what my reactions are to various events. And I've discovered that usually I don't have trouble handling a negative event, and really I don't have trouble handling the primary emotions either. I only become irritated or bothered about the secondary emotions.

For example: I was slightly upset when a professor criticized my work in lab. To make myself feel better, I had a huge chocolate pastry for a snack. Actually, that's not quite correct. I had two. :) Then I felt that I shouldn't be upset, and I shouldn't have eaten two pastries when I wasn't even hungry, because I should be able to handle myself better. So I felt guilty for being upset. That's a secondary emotion.

At the end of the day, all I knew was that I was very upset. And I don't like being very upset.

But - BUT! Now look what happens if we think about secondary emotions:

So at the end of the day I ended up a) upset because my technical abilities were challenged, b) upset because I ate so much dessert, and c) guilty that I felt upset.

If I had stopped to think after lab about what my professor said, I could have recognized that yes - I don't like being critiqued. But no, that does not mean I'm hungry, it just means I am feeling defenisve, and I should just deal with that.

Then I wouldn't have eaten the pastries.

And even after I ate the pastries, if I had stopped to think, I could have recognized that yes - I ate pastries to feel better, and that's okay. It doesn't mean I am wrong to be upset in the first place, and it doesn't mean I have to feel guilty about eating the pastries.

And then I wouldn't have ended the day at "very upset".

Because then instead of a), b), and c) emotions to deal with, I would have only had a).

And one emotion at a time is something even Miss Outlier can handle.


  1. hmm interesting concept that I have never considered. But I certainly can understand this, as I tend to get more upset about my emotional response to a situation than to the situation itself. For me, I think itis partially due to the fact that I was brought up in a family where we didn't really show our emotions too much and now I often feel guilty about my emotional responses

  2. Miss Outlier,

    mind I ask you why are you upset about eating the pastries? also, what can you do about them?


  3. @ A.L. I can't eat too many things with lots of calories, because I'm in a medical study where I have to keep my weight down (boo!). Can't do much about eating too much except eat a little less the next few days. All in all, pastries won't kill me - life will go on!